First, a little about heaves (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD). Taken from article by H.G. Towsend (2002).
What are heaves?
A respiratory disease of horses resulting in signs of chronic coughing; decreased exercise tolerance, difficulty breathing and abnormal lung sounds. These signs occur as the result of narrowing of the small airways of the lungs caused by: inflammation and thickening of their tissues; constriction of the smooth muscles that surround them; and accumulation of mucous and exudates within their lumens. The end result is trapping of air in the lungs (emphysema). Technically heaves is called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, recurrent airway obstruction may be a better name because most cases go into remission when their environment is changed. Difficulty in breathing recurs when susceptible horses are again exposed to moldy feeds or dusty conditions. Animals with clinical signs adopt a characteristic breathing strategy with very high peak flows at the start of exhalation which decreases rapidly as exhalation continues.
What causes heaves?
Most published evidence suggests that the inflammation of the small airways (bronchiolitis) is the result of an allergic response that occurs following exposure of the lower airways to dust and moulds, particularly those that come from poorly cured hay.
Common risk factors for the occurrence of clinical signs are exposure to poorly cured, moldy or dusty feeds, confinement to a stable environment, inadequate stable ventilation, straw bedding and being 6 years of age or older. The incidence of the disease may be highest in ponies as they are frequently kept in less than ideal conditions and fed poor quality hay.
How are heaves managed?
The best treatment for heaves is to remove the animal from the environment that appears to be causing the problem and by reducing exposure to dusts and moulds. Unless every reasonable effort is made to meet these objectives, none of the other recommended treatments is likely to be effective. In experimental studies, horses suffering from acute signs of heaves, subsequent to exposure to moldy feeds, experience substantial remission of clinical signs one to three weeks after being moved to a dust free environment and fed cubed roughage.
How does beet pulp help a horse with heaves?
Beet pulp fiber is highly digestible, and very comparable to many types of high quality forages. Because of this ingredient’s digestibility and hindgut health benifits, it makes for a great way to add energy to a diet, with out all of the added starch. Its sweet nature allows for increased palatability for even the pickiest eaters.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (heaves) and other respiratory problems can be helped by adding beet pulp in the diet. The dust in the feeds complicates these problems but by soaking the beet pulp, these issues can drastically be reduced.
If you have other questions, please let me know.
J.Tim Potter, Ph.D., PAS
Area Specialized Agent-Equine